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Tuesday, 21 December 1993
Page: 5519


Senator TIERNEY (1.23 a.m.) —Like many people on this side, I am extremely disappointed with the Greens' position on this. One wonders what the purpose of having Senate committees is. Evidence was received from the country area people, from a wide range of states and a wide range of people. Reports have been done into the country areas program. We have evidence that there has been movement of money already back to other equity programs from the country area programs. The evidence is there.

  I call on the Greens at this very late stage to change their minds, to look at the evidence, particularly the evidence that was given to us, and not to be hoodwinked by this government that is trying to get this program through so that there is greater flexibility in the use of money, and for `flexibility', read the draining of money away from country areas to the other programs in this broadband system.

  We are so concerned about this that six senators from this side put out press releases right across country Australia. We have done all the newspapers and we have done all the radio. In those press releases, we bagged the Democrats mercilessly. Senator Bell would be interested to know this. I can understand Senator Margetts's position to some extent because she was not listening to all the evidence. Not only did Senator Bell hear all the evidence but he also signed the dissenting report—which Senator Crane and I also signed—based on that evidence. For some reason, he did a backflip on this. I do not know his reasons for that; he will probably get up and tell us in a minute. Senator Bell can be assured that all country Australia knows that the Democrats have betrayed the country areas by allowing this bill through. It will siphon money away from the country and into the cities.

  In that letter, I praised the Greens for standing for this very sensible approach which has been advocated by everyone and which came out in the Senate report. But I assure honourable senators that I will be putting out another press release tomorrow if this bill goes in the other direction.

  Let us go back to having a look at what the arguments were on this matter. There was a review of CAP back in 1990. In view of the widespread success of CAP which has to date promoted positive attitudes towards schooling and in light of new demands being placed on rural schools, funding should be increased to this program. There has been evidence that it is one of the most successful education programs ever developed. As I said in an earlier speech, `If it ain't broke then don't fix it' is a very good principle of government. That is the evidence from around the country. Everyone involved said it worked well. It involved the whole community. It involved getting the state schools and the private schools working together. Resources that had never been available to the isolated areas before—things that we take for granted in city schools—were available.

  Why on earth would a government want to change that? We have evidence that, even under the current system and without this legislation, it is worth an inquiry. We will certainly be bringing up in estimates how on earth DEET was able to drain funding away, even without this legislation, from the country areas program to other equity programs. Just imagine what it will do with this legislation. I have talked to the minister about this particular letter. I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The letter read as follows

Country Education Project

7 December 1993

Senator J W Tierney

Shop 1, Metway Centre

169 King Street

NEWCASTLE NSW 2300

Dear Senator Tierney

I am writing to you on three issues related to our common interest in country schools.

1.Thank you very much for your support and action in seeking to amend the State Grants Bill which will result in significant further damage to the operation of country schools. I know that the 295 schools represented by the Country Education Areas' Association and other country schools throughout Australia appreciate very much your support.

2.The following information updates our reports of resources already diverted from the Country Areas Program. You are aware from the evidence presented to the Senate Select Standing Committee that DEET has diverted funds from CAP national to the Gender Equity Program, as follows:

  1993—$438,000 plus supplementation expected to be more than $500,000

  1994—proposed $750,000 (plus supplementation, > $500,000)

Since the Committee met, an additional $140,000 has been diverted from CAP activities in Victoria by the Commonwealth.

These sums of money are additional to the diversions that have occurred from CEP funds into the State system general revenue as a result of the Directorate of Education cross-charging 48% on-costs for all salaries. This Association and/or La Trobe University, Bendigo would certainly offer to manage the Commonwealth's CAP activities in Victoria for a substantially lower management fee than this.

3.The Country Education Areas' Association will soon Incorporate and become the Country Education Programs Association. We will continue to play a strong part in seeking just and equitable treatment for students and community members associated with Victoria and Australia's rural schools.

We look forward to continuing to work with you in this strengthened capacity.

Yours sincerely,

Doug Lloyd, Chair

Country Education Areas' Association


Senator TIERNEY —I want to refer to one or two points in the letter in the hope that we might convince at least Senator Margetts to change her mind. This letter is from Doug Lloyd of the Country Education Areas Association. He says:

I am writing to you on three issues related to our common interest in country schools.

1.Thank you very much for your support and action in seeking to amend the State Grants Bill which will result in significant further damage to the operation of country schools. I know that the 295 schools represented by the Country Education Areas' Association—

this is in Victoria—

and other country schools throughout Australia appreciate very much your support.

2.The following information updates our reports of resources already diverted from the Country Areas Program. You are aware from the evidence presented to the Senate Select Standing Committee that DEET has diverted funds from CAP national to the Gender Equity Program, as follows:

  1993—$438,000 plus supplementation expected to be more than $500,000

  1994—proposed $750,000 (plus supplementation, > $500,000) . . .

We have to realise that the isolated areas of Australia cover only one per cent of Australia's population. They do not have many resources. If we drain that sort of money away from isolated schools, it will make an extremely big difference to the sorts of things these schools are doing. I am not talking about silly examples like floodlights. I am talking about the vast bulk of things that happen in these schools—things like musical instruments and cooperative programs that are developed with other schools. These sorts of things are being threatened even under the current legislation.

  This legislation underlines in a very heavy way that government can move money about between these programs. In the cities we have people who have advocates. They have the ability to put their views to government. They often have offices very near government and they can have their voices heard. People out in the isolated areas cannot. They do not have the advocacy for their cause that these other programs have. So the louder voices will be heard and money will be moved in this direction.

  Senator Margetts has told me that the government has said, `Money can move in the other direction too'. I concede that that is possible under this proposal. The evidence before us in that letter that I incorporated and other evidence that we received on the committee shows that that is not the likely case. It is likely to drain out of country areas. I appeal to the Greens to change their minds and hold to their original position. We were all very impressed in this place during the debate on the wine tax bill when the Greens did listen to local constituents in the Margaret River and those winegrowing areas in Western Australia and did change their view.

  Senator Margetts would have to do a bit of speed reading to read our entire report, but I assure her that the view was unanimous from all the evidence presented to us across the states and across Australia that the country areas program should stay in place. Perhaps Senator Bell will tell us in a minute why he back-flipped on it, having signed the dissenting report; I suppose he will hold to his position. But I appeal to Senator Margetts in particular to change her position and protect this extremely valuable program for country education in Australia.